John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award Recipient: Shelby Duffy Benton

Chelsea, a white woman with wavy brown hair, wears a black dress with small white dots.By Chelsea Gajewski

The John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award honors current and retired members of the North Carolina State Bar throughout the state who have demonstrated exemplary service to the legal profession. Members of the Bar nominate colleagues who they feel have demonstrated service to the profession. The criteria to be selected for this award includes, but is not limited to, furthering the public’s understanding of and confidence in the law and justice system; devoting time to leadership to ensure equal access to our justice system; pro bono work to those who have limited meals; and treating opposing counsel with courtesy and respect. You can learn more about this award on the North Carolina State Bar’s website.

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Share the Love of Pro Bono

Elysia, a woman with black hair, wears a mint-colored blouse and black jacket.By Elysia Prendergast-Jones

A new year comes with new commitments, new resolutions, and a fresh outlook on our impact in the community. This year, we want to invite you to start the new year by checking off your pro bono commitments for the year. Our family law bar is a very active bar with valuable knowledge that people are always seeking. With time commitments that have us all working around the clock, let the pro bono team make life a little sweeter with pre-planned events that will allow you to get involved with pro bono and give the gift of knowledge.

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Family Law Section Update: January

Ketan, a man with black hair, wears a white shirt and black jacket. The photo is in black and white.By Ketan Soni

A. We had a Council meeting on January 12, 2023. The next meeting is on March 23, 2023, in Cary, NC.

You might ask: “Why wasn’t I invited?”

The answer is: “You’re not signed up to volunteer as a committee chair or a council member.”

Then, you might say: “Well, how can I get more involved?”

My response would be: “Have you not read any of the previous blog posts where I tell you exactly how to do this? Are you so stinking busy that you can’t take the 15 seconds to email me or Cheyenne Merrigan to get signed up?”

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“Parental Alienation”: Too Often a Red Herring in Child Custody Cases

Suzanne, a white woman with curly brown hair, wears a white and blank sleeveless blouse and dark circular glasses. She smiles outside.By Suzanne Chester

In October 2020, I wrote about the weaponization of the charge of parental alienation in family court, and how it obscures the multiple legitimate reasons children have for rejecting contact with a parent.

In 2022, three influential organizations took a public position on this issue of parent-child contact problems. The American Professional Society Against Child Abuse (APSAC) is the leading national organization supporting professionals who serve children and families affected by child maltreatment and violence. Over the years, APSAC has repeatedly opposed the harmful presumption among many family court professionals that parental alienation is the reason for a child refusing contact with the other parent. In its most recent position statement, APSAC warns that a rush to blame one parent for the child’s aversion to contact with the other parent results in professionals failing to investigate allegations of abuse or mistreatment and making recommendations that are detrimental to the child’s best interests.

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How to Stop Failing at Getting Your Pro Bono Hours

Elysia, a woman with black hair, wears a mint-colored blouse and black jacket.By Elysia Prendergast-Jones and Sarah Hill McIntyre

Elysia Prendergast-Jones and Sarah Hill McIntyre are Co-Chairs of the Pro Bono Committee of the Family Law Section. They have taken on the important task of serving the underserved in addition to managing regular cases. The Pro Bono Committee is always looking for volunteers to assist clients across the state.

In that vein, the Pro Bono Committee has spearheaded an effort with the Paralegal Division to provide one-day clinics in North Carolina. Listen to this video blog to learn how you can become a part of this important movement in addition to supporting your colleagues!

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November Family Law Section Update

Ketan, a man with black hair, wears a white shirt and black jacket. The photo is in black and white.By Ketan Soni

I’m thankful that I’m still your chair. You are probably thankful that Jill Jackson will be your next chair. Please don’t impeach me. We just had a Council meeting on November 17.

Here’s an update on my goals.

1. Succession Plan: It’s going to get done by December 31, 2022. So far, zero progress. I only get to fail on December 31, 2022, if I still haven’t done it.

2. Financial Affidavits: We can’t stop winning. We have broken down how to update the financial affidavits by delving into 6 buckets:

  • “Form” of the Financial Affidavit
  • “Income” section of the Financial Affidavit
  • “Fixed” or “Shared Family” section
  • “Individual Monthly” expenses
  • Depicting Standard of Living v. Current Standard
  • User Experience. “User” means our clients, the judges, and ourselves.

We have over 20 people working on this across the state: large counties, small counties, paralegals, attorneys, and more!

3. To streamline Council meetings. It’s an 80/20 on this one now. We’ve made progress. Our last meeting was only 1.5 hours. Read more

Meet the Leaders, Part 1: Jill Jackson

By Ketan Soni

Jill Jackson has been a staple of the family law community in North Carolina for over 20 years.

You may know her as a fierce litigator, a seasoned negotiator, or literally a Wonder Woman™. (Ask her about this if you don’t know the reference.)

In addition to these wonderful things, Jill has an excellent perspective on how to keep our heads in the game without losing our heads! Listen to this short video about Jill’s view on navigating the waters of our profession.


Celebrating Pro Bono Month

Elysia, a woman with auburn hair and brown eyes, wears a white shirt and blue and white jacket.By Elysia Prendergast-Jones

The month of October brings awareness to many causes. It is Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Pro Bono Month.

Let’s talk about what we can do as family law attorneys to bring some awareness to Pro Bono Month.

The North Carolina State Bar asks each lawyer to commit to providing 50 hours of legal services to those who are unable to pay, according to Rule 6.1, which states in further detail: every lawyer should

“(a) provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:

(1) persons of limited means;

(2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; or

(3) individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate;

(b) provide any additional services through:

(1) the delivery of legal services described in paragraph (a) at a substantially reduced fee; or

(2) participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.

In addition, a lawyer should voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.” Read more

October Family Law Section Update

By Ketan Soni

Did you read my last post? Here it is.

I’m still your chair. Jill Jackson is still your more pleasant vice-chair.

Before reading the rest of this post, ask yourself:

“Am I seriously going to be out-volunteered by Ketan Soni?”

If the answer is:

“Not while I still have breath in me!”, then just contact Ketan or Cheyenne Merrigan to sign up for anything. Read more

Looking Beyond Lawyers to Close the Access to Justice Gap

Alicia, a woman with black hair and brown eyes, wears a black tank top and is smiling.S.M. Kernodle-Hodges, a Black woman with brown hair and brown eyes, wears a blue button-down shirt.By Alicia Mitchell-Mercer and S.M. Kernodle-Hodges

“If one wishes to know how justice is administered, one does not question the policemen, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected— those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony. ~James Baldwin, “No Name on the Street”

The Justice Gap

Civil access to justice is high stakes. It is a prerequisite for meeting fundamental human needs. Without access to justice, individuals are incapable of contesting injustice or holding decision-makers accountable. Access routinely determines whether basic human needs for food, clothing, and shelter will be met, and it can mean everything for a person in crisis. Sadly, when individuals realize they need legal help, they also realize they cannot afford a lawyer. More often than not, they are also ineligible for assistance from legal aid. The difference between the civil legal needs of lower-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs is what we refer to as the “Access to Justice Gap.” Read more